I heard that there are starlings at Pleydell Court.
I went to look, though I’m not very good on birds.
I can tell the difference between
A parrot and a pigeon
A sparrow and a stork
And, indeed, between a handsaw and a hawk
But a starling and a…fieldfare? A starling and a thrush?
Even so, I went to have a look
But saw no starlings roosting at Pleydell Court.
Only the next day I saw the murmuration.
A murmuration: such a strange, fantastical word;
‘A doubtful word for a flock of starlings’
My dictionary has it.
It sounds as if it’s the name for a sacrament-
Baptism, Confirmation, Murmuration
Prayers for the murmuration of souls
A murmuration of starlings
A murder of crows
A muster of peacocks).
A murmuration exaltation it is called.
I have seen it now and now
I can tell the difference between a murmuration and a flock.
I saw the murmuration
On Saturday, late-autumn, early- afternoon twilight
The final evening before Advent
And in the two lights, two darknesses
The shadow of them, the shadow of the flock
Flickering, swooping, swinging across and back
From, I suppose, Pleydell Court, across the Sandgate Road
Scores of them changing direction as one
At a moment’s notice; diving, shape-shifting;
So rapid, so fast, so flickery that you cannot focus
Cannot really see a starling
At first glance they might be bees
Although even I can tell the difference between
A starling and a bee.
I watched and admired in awe and then I came home
And read more about it on Wikipedia
And watched a murmuration on YouTube
(The way you do)
It says that the video I watched ‘went viral’
Which is appropriate, the murmuration itself
It is not fully known how starlings are able
To move as an intelligent crowd in this way
Thousands of them changing direction simultaneously
It is called scale-free correlation
And it provides each starling
With an effective perception range
Much larger than the direct
Interindividual interaction range
Thus enhancing global response to perturbation.
Let’s have that again:
The enhanced global response to perturbation.
Wow! There’s a poem for you!
The language of particle physics explaining beauty!
Though not as amazing as the murmuration itself
Just as these words of mine are not nearly as amazing
And which is best? Which tells you more?
The folk-poetry, hidden meaning of ‘murmuration’
Or the scientific, hidden meaning of ‘perturbation’?
The point is we will never have a word
That properly describes a bird.
Response to perturbation:
They move the way they do to evade marauders
Although not, I think, murders of crows.
The starnel crowd that dims the muddy light
Wrote John Clare, who noticed a thing or two
Though not, it seems, the proper name of starlings.
Well, there are plenty of words and languages I don’t know
Though I’ve seen them on Wikipedia and in books
But there’s one thing I know
Or think I know
And it’s told in words of one syllable
And it’s lyrical not particle-physic-al
And it goes
A crow in a crowd is a rook
A rook on its own is a crow.